39. The Power of Words


Explain to students that this session is about words: Why are words important? What power do they have?


Show this 5 minute Stephen Fry video about the power of words in Nazi Germany: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohrtFuxUzZE and ask the students to respond to such questions as:

  • What words did the Nazis and the Hutus use to dehumanise their enemies? [e.g., rats, sub-human, vermin, ape-men, sub-human, virus, lice, insects]
  • What is wrong with using language in this way?
  • What does it show about the use of words?


Explain that words are tools. They can be used in many different ways. They can heal or hurt, reveal or hide. Give out the following quotes on separate sheets of paper and spread them around the room on different tables:

  • “Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls.
  • “The language we use to communicate with one another is like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do great good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, a knife can cause great harm.” Anon.
  • “Be careful with your words. Once they are said they can only be forgiven, not forgotten.” Anon.
  • “Language is the father of thought.” Anon.
  • “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein.
  • “The instant you open your mouth you miss the point.” Taoist saying.
  • “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Traditional saying.
  • “and God said: Let there be light” Genesis 1:3.
  • “The one who knows, does not say, the one who says, does not know.” Zen Buddhist saying.

Encourage the students to circle round the room and write comments on as many of the sayings as possible, noting their ideas, for example on what the sayings mean and the extent to which they agree with them.

After the exercise, ask students to offer some reflections on such questions as:

  • Which is your favourite quote and why?
  • What is your advice about how we should use words?

Extend the conversation with such questions as:

  • How are words powerful in religious traditions?
  • How do Christians use words?
  • Why do you think Christians call the Bible “the Word of God”?
  • What do they mean when they say Jesus is “the Word made flesh”?


Read out loud ‘The Mystic’ by Anthony De Mello:


Ask the students for their reflections on whether they think the mystic should have tried to put God into words, and to explain their views.


1.  Happiness Part 1: status anxiety
2.  Happiness Part 2: religion and happiness
3.  Happiness Part 3: what is happiness?
4.  Morality Part 1: what is morality?
5.  Morality Part 2: should we live by ‘moral laws’?
6.  Morality Part 3: where does our sense of morality come from?
7.  Are You Religious?
8.  What Is a Religion and what is a Cult?
9.  What does it Mean to be Religious Today?
10. Religion in Numbers Part 1: how many people on Earth?
11. Religion in Numbers Part 2: how many people are ‘religious’?
12. Religion in Numbers Part 3: how did believers got to where they are?
13. Are All Religions Equal?
14. Transactional Analysis: learning how to feel equal
15. Bloom’s Taxonomy
16. Harry Potter and God
17. Without Fear or Favour Part 1
18. Without Fear or Favour Part 2
19. It’s Not Fair
20. Mind, Memory and Justice
21. Karma, Memory, Freedom and Justice
22. The Religion of Ordinary Life Part 1: Religion Without God
23. The Religion of Ordinary Life Part 2: God and Morality
24. The Religion of Ordinary Life Part 3: Is Life Beautiful?
25. Can Atheists learn anything from Religion?
26. What do Buddhists Believe about God?
27. Is Seeing Believing?
28. Are We Being Hypnotised?
29. Sex and Relationships
30. Truth, Proof and Evidence
31. How should we deal with the range of different opinions in today’s world?
32. Is Religion a Force for Evil or Good?
33. Do Religious Experiences Prove God?
34. What Is Evil?
35. God and Evil
36. Can we verify Religious Experiences?
37. How Spiritual are You?
38. What is Philosphy?
39. The Power of Words
40. Art and Beauty

A printable (pdf) version of this session can be found here

© Sea of Faith 2018

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